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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 2127

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (15:06): I rise to speak to the motion moved by Senator Boswell to take note of answers in question time today. We heard the answer from the minister during question time. This is a standard process which I would have thought that people in this chamber would understand. If there is a complaint about the environmental impact of any project—it does not matter which one—it is a requirement that the minister refer it for further investigation. We have had this debate on both sides of this chamber. I can remember questions across the chamber when senators from this side invoked the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to ensure that any questions about the impact of any project would go through agreed standard practice to look at the environmental impact of development. In this case, I think that there would be no doubt in this chamber that the protection of the waterways of the Great Barrier Reef and the cape is the most important thing that we have.

In terms of the Great Barrier Reef, we have heard passionate speeches over many years about the need to protect this treasure. Anyone who has visited the area would understand just how important, how extraordinarily beautiful this area is, and there must be absolute surety that no matter what the project, no matter who the sponsors of the projects are, there will be no impact on or danger to those waterways.

In hearing Senator Boswell speak, he argues for in many cases the very action that the minister took. We need to understand that it must be ensured that the shipping as a the result of any development up there poses no danger to the reef, the waters and the environmental protection in that area.

We know that there have been occasions in the past when there have been quite delicate issues where that wonderful environmental area could well have been damaged as a result of the development processes. None of us want that to happen, and a valid issue has been raised. Whether it was one page or not, the issue must be whether it was a valid concern. The minister has agreed that it was a valid concern. He agreed that the previous application from the proponent did not take into account the shipping dangers that were there and, part of the job of the minister is to make sure that all people in the country can feel safe that the legislation will be independent and look at the issues before us.

I will not even make much more than a comment about Senator Boswell's inference that there was some linkage to the Queensland state election. These things happen over years. It happens when there is an application by anyone drawing attention to a threat.

Several years ago in this place we had a degree of discussion about an application that was put through in very short terms about the protection of a parrot with respect to wind farms in Victoria. Immediately, the then minister took into account the environmental protection agencies and went back to have a full review of that claim. We asked questions about whether it was appropriate and whether it was going through due process. The answer from the minister, as is the answer today from the minister, was that the job of the minister is to ensure that the community has faith in the environmental protection legislation. In this case, when you have any question about the protection of environment, there must be an independent review. The minister has done that. They have reassessed the time frame for when this particular proposal will be assessed.

There has to be agreement that people, if they are going to respect the legislation, have to accept that it does not matter who puts the complaint or the question in but, when it is done, they will have the certainty that the minister of day, regardless of flavour of politics, will implement the appropriate legislation. This is what has occurred. The timing has been assessed. Rio Tinto knows the process. They have been well versed in the way the EPBC Act operates. They know how it works. It is now going through the process that has been put in place. There will be an investigation to see whether the extra shipping will cause any danger. There will be an assessment made which will be fed back into the process.

It is not unusual; it is standard process. I cannot control the date of the state election. The minister cannot control the date of the state election. We have a formal response to a real issue, and we are now invoking the legislation which has been agreed in this chamber. The only process we have is the EPBC Act, and we are using it. (Time expired)